Saturday, October 29, 2016

Review of Trumpets Playhouse' ALWAYS UPON A TIME: Learning Life Lessons

October 29, 2016

One of the first projects of Trumpets in 1993 was "Fables and Parables" by writer-director Freddie Santos. In the same vein and spirit with that pioneering show, the maiden production of Trumpets Playhouse is an all-new musical of the same genre entitled "Always Upon a Time." In fact the title of this new show came from the lyrics of the former show.

What made this new show more special was that the main people behind this production were all former Playshoppers, graduates of the Trumpets Playshop theater training sessions ongoing now for the past 23 years. The list includes Steven Conde (writer and director), Vince Lim (original music) and Joaquin Valdez (current executive director of Playshop and Playhouse). The present cast of kids and teens were all Playshoppers as well for the past three years or more. 

Brothers Daniel and Tommy brought their Father up to the attic of their house to look for story books that their recently-departed mother Vicky used to read for them. At first, Father was ill-tempered and impatient, to the extent of dismissing "happily ever after" as but a myth. But as circumstances keep them stuck in the attic for a long while, Father eventually warmed up to his sons' fantasy and biblical tales, and later actively participated by imparting important lessons from each story told.

The story-telling started simply with a straightforward telling of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." With the next story "The Lion and the Mouse," we already begin to notice the beautiful hand-crafted masks worn by the kids. By the time the next segment about "The Princess and Frog" came, we are treated to the first of a series of elaborately-executed episodes with increasingly more complex masks and puppets. "The Fisherman and his Wife" followed suit with its giant pop-up book style props. 

The Bible stories began with rapping "Adam and Eve" segment, with a very imaginative paper-chain puppet of the Serpent. The "David and Goliath" segment had an innovative way of showing the giant size of Goliath, with a most intricate, whole-body, life-size child puppet for David. The final story was the story of "Job" and his countless misfortunes, a sad story most unexpected to see in a show like this, but carried the message of faith and hope very effectively. 

These imaginative sets, puppets and masks of painstaking detail were by Make It Happen Workshop by Otto Hernandez, AC Hernandez and Paolo MaƱalac. They are the same people behind the beautiful horses of a recent Trumpets' show "The Horse and his Boy" (MY REVIEW). 

Daniel Drilon (as Daniel), with his distinctive thick mop of hair, had a very good singing voice and a strong stage presence. Little Gabo Tiongson (as Tommy) had flawless delivery of his lengthy lines was most impressive, despite the observation that his eyes seemed to be irritated by the bright stage lights. For the whole 1-1/2 hour run of the show (without intermission), these two kids held their own against the ever-reliable veteran actor Lorenz Martinez who played their Father.

Gabby Concepcion (a young miss, not the actor) showcased her sweet vocals as she briefly sang some lines as the mom Vicky. She then went on to play the spirited princess who met the frog prince, played by Guido Gatmaytan (who wore his mask and worked his frog puppet to excellent effect). Gatmaytan was one of the boys who alternated as Tyltyl in Trumpets' triumphant "The Bluebird of Happiness" (MY REVIEW) three years ago. The other was Anton Posadas, who looked all grown up now playing the hapless Fisherman who had an ever-discontented wife (played by Crystal Paras). 

Their sister Mytyl on "Bluebird," Chimmi Kohchet-Chua, showed off her talents as the slinky Serpent and as David's friend (with a short but showstopping solo). Daniel Khan (who stood out with his facial hair) played the hiphop Adam and Eena Salvador played his Eve. The rest of the cast members rotating in various roles in the show are Andee Achacoso, Teddy Velasco, Ethan Paras, Vea Salvador, Rianelle Albaladejo, Michelle Chua, Eggo Velasco, and Reubz Galenzoga.

These kids were actually carrying the weight of the whole professional production on their shoulders. Kudos to Trumpets for taking such a gamble. They had to work on this show alongside their school schedules, which I can imagine is no joke. This matinee show I watched today is their first public performance and it may not be perfect with some flubbed lines and a number of sound issues with their microphones. However, the kids were such troupers, carrying on with their scenes despite these little lapses. There is no denying the smiles, energy and verve that carried the whole show forward. I realize this show is still a work in progress, and they will definitely continue to improve with every performance.

The future of Philippine theater is indeed up there on that stage, and, as far as we can see, this future is secure. 

This is a very limited run of only five shows on two days during the Halloween semestral break. There were two shows on the first day October 29 at 3pm and 8pm. There are three more shows on the second (and last) day October 30 at 10am, 3pm and 8pm. Venue is at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater at the RCBC Plaza in Makati. Tickets at only P800 for orchestra and P600 for loge seats.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review of Atlantis' JERSEY BOYS: Volante is Valli!

October 15, 2016

I had only seen the film version of "Jersey Boys" directed by Clint Eastwood two years ago when it was shown in local theaters. I never got the chance to watch it on stage even though I had seen posters of the hit stage production in both Broadway and in Las Vegas when I was visiting those places before. I was very excited when Atlantis announced that they were going to stage this show with an all-Filipino cast from Sept. 23 to Oct. 16 this year. Unfortunately because of a very tight schedule, I was only able to catch it today, on its third to the last show. 

The music of this decidedly masculine musical was by Bob Gaudio with lyrics by Bob Crewe, while the book was by Marshall Brickman and Rick EliceUsing the group's name as basis, the play was divided into four sections each given the name of a certain season. 

Spring was narrated by Tommy de Vito, as it detailed the unsavory origins of the group. Despite its image as a clean-cut group, they actually had criminal records and shady connections with the Mob. Summer was narrated by Bob Gaudio, as their entry into pop stardom was described. This was the most exciting section as it was here that their unforgettable hit songs -- "Sherry" (#1 Aug. 1962), "Big Girls Don't Cry" (#1 Oct. 1962) and "Walk Like a Man" (#1 Jan. 1963) -- were sung.

After the intermission, it was Fall, narrated by Nick Massi. As the title of the section suggested, this part was the downer section recounting the band's fall from grace brought about by Tommy's reckless dealings with loan sharks and the IRS, something that eventually led to the group's disbandment. The last section Winter was narrated by Frankie Valli, telling about his strained personal relationships, as well as his emergence as a successful solo artist. This culminated in an electric reunion performance of "Rag Doll" (#1 Jul. 1964) during their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Nyoy Volante was amazing as he delivered his lines and sang his songs in the very distinctly squeaky speaking voice and soaring falsetto singing voice of Frankie Valli. We know he had a talent for impersonation during his remarkable stint as a contestant on TV's "Your Face Sounds Familiar" when he impressively took on a most varied list of singers from Luciano Pavarotti to Sylvia la Torre. But to copy someone's voice for one song is one thing, and to stay in that voice consistently for the entire 2-1/2 hours duration of the play is something else. Volante's singing range was breathtaking as he tore into those iconic songs as if he were Valli himself. His sincere acting we can all empathize with.

Markki Stroem had been an erratic performer in the previous times I had seen him on stage or film. However, make no mistake, his performance in this show as Tommy de Vito was the best I had ever seen him in. He stood out with his strong stage presence, full of confidence and bravado as he realistically delivered those gangster lines of his, as well as perfect comic timing in those sly humorous zingers he had. 

Nino Alejandro is a very natural actor for someone who is new to the stage scene. His character Nick Massi was the most low key of the four, and he admitted to this himself, likening himself to Ringo Starr. We hear Alejandro's rich voice distinctly as he sang the baritone parts of the harmonies, in audible contrast with Volante's falsetto. His sense of comedy was also faultless in his delivery of his funny lines in that realistic Jersey accent. 

Christian Bautista is no doubt a very good singer. His very first song in this show "Cry for Me" showed off his singing range. However his range as an actor was noted to be rather limited in previous roles as Tony in "West Side Story" and Sam in "Ghost". Since he plays the rather one-dimensional goody-goody role here as Bob Gaudio, his performance was actually quite good this time. His dancing though still needed more verve when compared to the other three guys. 

Jamie Esteva Wilson played a serene Mafia don Gyp deCarlo, while Nelsito Gomez played a comical Joe Pesci. The other members of the hard-working company had to portray the numerous side characters around the central four, and their singing was all on-point as well. The men were Bibo Reyes, Altair Alonso, Steven Conde, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Kendrick Ibasco, Gab Medina, and Timmy Pavino. The ladies were Mikkie Bradshaw, Yanah Laurel, Giannina Ocampo, and Emeline Carmela Guinid. Thanks to the transforming hair & makeup design by Johann Dela Fuente and costumes by Erwin Tan, I did not recognize who was who anymore from where I was sitting. 

The set designed by Faust Peneyra looked like plain brown wooden boxes only at first, but they came alive with the multi-colored lighting design of Driscoll Otto. Those boxes turned out to be multi-purpose wonders as they were converted into a recording studio, a performance stage in a club, a line of prison cells, various offices and living rooms, by the fluid pushing in and out of the props. They did not fail to reproduce the light post under which the boys first realized they had magic sonic chemistry together. 

"December 1963 (Oh What a Night)" (#1 in 1976), my personal favorite Four Seasons song, was performed twice. The first time was sung by Bob when he got his Christmas "gift", and the second time was during curtain call (when you can't help but to stand up and dance along). A night spent watching this show is indeed quite a night. The music of the Four Seasons remains as vital as they were 40-50 years ago, under the adept musical direction of Ceejay Javier. The fantastic performances of our Filipino actors triumphantly transcended boundaries. The enthralled audience was clamoring for an encore after the last song. This first-rate Atlantis production of "Jersey Boys" as directed by Bobby Garcia is definitely worthy to tour the world. 


"Jersey Boys" has one last performance at 3pm on October 16, 2016 before winding up their critically and fan-acclaimed run at the Meralco Theater. Parental guidance is advised for young viewers. The Jersey tongue is prone to profanity, so several crisp ones come up through out this show.  There were also scenes with overt sexual references. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Review of TP's PANGARAP SA ISANG GABI NG GITNANG TAG-ARAW: Fanciful Farce with Fairies

October 8, 2016

For its season opener this year, Tanghalang Pilipino takes on William Shakespeare's popular comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream" using the Filipino translation done by no less than National Artist for Theater and Literature, Rolando Tinio. Instead of the Little Theater, this production was staged in the much smaller Tanghalang Huseng Batute (Studio Theater) which was surprising given the complex scope and big cast of this story. 

However, upon entering the theater, the huge two-tiered stage design made the area look so much bigger than how it looked like when we watch Virgin Labfest shows. The backdrop design looked like houses rendered abstract and geometric, colorful and vibrant, with stylized green shrubbery in the foreground. After his awarded steampunk design for "Mabining Mandirigma," Toym Imao had again risen to the challenge, conquered and expanded the limited room and re-imagined Athens at the same time.

The Pyramus and Thisbe Scene

This was a very busy play with so many characters. There were two realms -- the human and the fairy. Teseo, duke of Athens, ravishes Hipolita, Amazon queen. Hermia loves Lisandro, but her father Egeo wants her to marry Demetrio, whom Helena is infatuated. There was a ragtag company of workers trying to stage their version of "Pyramus and Thisbe" for the duke's wedding. Meanwhile, Oberon, the King of the Fairies, wants to teach his proud wife Titania a lesson in humility. However, in fulfillment of his orders, Oberon's naughty servant Puck caused a major mix-up.

This was the first time I've seen local theater royalty Audie Gemora do a straight play in Filipino, and it was as fairy king Oberon to boot. This was the first time I had seen the ageless Jackie Lou Blanco act on stage, and her carriage onstage as Hipolita was nothing less than regal. This was the first time I had seen Richard Cunanan actually deliver lines in Filipino with his usual carefree insouciant air as Egeo

Audie Gemora and Aldo Vencilao

There were five actors who really stood out in this production for me. Liesl Batucan was riveting, fierce and sexy as TitaniaJonathan Tadioan was pure mirthful joy as the foolish Bottom, Pyramo, and the jackass that he turned into. Marco Viana's performance of Lisandro under the magical flower's spell was delightfully ironic. Lhorvie Nuevo was so intensely moving as the desperate, and later the confused, Helena. Teroy Guzman is really a quintessentially elegant Shakespearean actor, however small his role here was as Teseo

The rest of the main cast were played by the members of the TP Actors Company, like Aldo Vencilao (as Puck), Toni Go (as Hermia) and JV Ibesate (as Demetrio). Ybes Bagadiong (as Peter Quince), Joshua Tayco (as Starveling/Buwan) and Doray Dayao (as Snug/Leon) play the other wacky characters of the "Pyramus" crew, with guest actors Kristofer Kliatchko (scene-stealing as he played Snout/Pader) and Rafa Siguion-Reyna (in smeared lipstick and ragged drag as he played Flute/Thisbe). Monique Nellas, Eunice Pacia and Blanche Buhia play the fairy handmaidens of Titania (Agiw, Garbanzos and Mustasa, but I am not sure which one played which).

Jonathan Tadioan and Liesl Batucan

After an odd and rather violent opening scene, the comic premise of the play slowly unfolded until we are all caught up laughing in its gleeful clutches. Director Carlos Siguion-Reyna was sitting right in front of me during the show, and I saw that he was still laughing as the madcap show went along. I am guessing that the cast may be making impromptu comic ad-libs which make each show fresh. The costume design of James Reyes for the fairies, particularly Titania and her nymphs, played with bright colors, in contrast to most of the other noble characters in white (with black accents), and the workmen in shades of drab browns and dirty cream. 

I was surprised when the play started with English lines. The rest of the play would be in Filipino, but the occasional English lines will still be delivered by some characters, which I imagine is a big challenge to memorize for those actors. That rollicking fun performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe" in the last act  looked so natural as a disastrously amateur effort -- hilariously amazing! The show may be long (over 2-1/2 hours with a 10 minute intermission) and the language poetic (yet so refreshingly current), but overall it was mischievous fun, engaging and very entertaining -- another triumphant production by Tanghalang Pilipino! The happy and appreciative full house last night was proof of that. 

The Cast and Director Take a Final Bow


The remaining shows of "Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-araw" are on: October 9, 2016 (Sunday) – 3PM, October 14, 2016 (Friday) – 8PM, October 15, 2016 (Saturday) – 3PM & 8PM and October 16, 2016 (Sunday) – 3PM. For tickets, call 832 1125 loc. 1620/1621 | 822 6920 or at TICKETWORLD 891 9999

Friday, October 7, 2016

Review of NEVER AGAIN: VOICES OF MARTIAL LAW Set C: Steamy, Silly, Searing

October 7, 2016

Last September 21, 2016, the Philippines marked the 44th anniversary of the day then President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081, which placed the entire country under Martial Law. This year, the results of the recently concluded national elections shook many Gen X people up that the public awareness against Martial Law now ran very low, and history was slowly being revised among the millennials. The organizers of this show entitled "Never Again: Voices Against Martial Law" aimed to re-educate the millennials of today about what really happened during these controversial years from 1972-1981. 

There were three sets of three one-act plays (most of them are originals specifically for this show) by several noted playwrights and directors in the Filipino theater world today. Because of my tight schedule these last two months, I think this Set C that I watched today may just be the only set I will be able to watch. All three plays are originals, first to be staged in this festival. 

The venue of the shows is in the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani (a museum dedicated to the Martial Law years and the People Power Revolution) located along Quezon Avenue near EDSA beside Centris) that I never even knew existed. While waiting for the show to begin at 8pm, I was able to look at some of the interesting though very eerie exhibits they had displayed. The auditorium had very comfortable seats. I was already seated at the last row, yet the whole stage was clearly visible with excellent acoustics.

1. Shhh

Playwright: Allan Lopez
Director: Jenny Jamora

One rainy morning in September 1977, lovers Kim (a photographer) and Mark (a law student) were dressing up to go have lunch. As they cavort around in their apartment, they discuss about the pictures Kim took during an open forum a few days ago. Mark's fraternity brother Archimedes Trajano, a student from the Mapua, who dared asked the distinguished speaker a question about her appointment as director of the Kabataang Barangay. He mysteriously went missing after that.

This was a voyeuristic play by 10-time Palanca winner Allan Lopez which took us to look and listen in to very intimate intercourse between two young lovers as sensitively staged by Ms. Jenny Jamora. Most plays use humor to break from serious issues. This one uses steamy scenes and sexually-charged lines, so apt for a play set in the liberated 1970s. Thea Yrastorza (last seen in Red Turnips' "Tribes") and Karl Medina (one of the three talented sons of Pen Medina) were very natural actors as they boldly and realistically play the vibrant Kim and the libidinous Mark. A third actor, Paulo Rodriguez, struck an ominous tone of fear as he appears late in the play as Kim's driver Vera.

2. Ang Lihim na Kasaysayan ng Huling Habilin ni Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (Spiritual King Solomon of Israel) Hinggil sa Pamanang Kayamanan ni King Bernardo Carpio at Jose Protacio Rizal Para sa Pagpapaunlad ng Bansang Pilipinas na Siyang Nalalaman ni Mang Ambo, Taxi Driver

Playwright: Guelan Varela-Luarca
Director: Roobak Valle

G was researching about Martial Law for a play she was writing. It just her luck that the taxi she was riding was being driven by Mang Ambo, the Number 1 fan of Ferdinand Marcos. He animatedly shares with the girl about Marcos' last will and testament which contained an incredible story about his fantastic wealth of gold and platinum, and how he inherited this treasure trove from past kings Bernardo Carpio and Jose Protacio Rizal, interwoven among other historical personalities and events. 

Yes, that is the full 42-word title of this very funny play by the prolific and multi-talented Guelan Luarca. Director Roobak Valle has a natural touch for these absurd comedies, like he did with Deldoc's "Ang Goldfish ni Professor Dimaandal", a classic favorite at the Virgin Labfest. Veteran actor Lou Veloso and the bubbly J-Mee Katanyag were such delightful performers as they took us on a hilarious trip around the world through time. The whole situation was so silly and out-of-the-box, it was downright brilliant. The audience was laughing from the very first scene.

3. Indigo Child

Playwright: Rody Vera
Director: Jose Estrella

Felisa just underwent a session of electro-convulsive therapy. She experiences a period of lucency when her past history as a rebel during the Martial Law days all came coming back so vividly, she shared it all with her son Jerome. She had to endure torture, electrical and otherwise, under her ruthless captor named Kidlat. She called Jerome an Indigo Child, a child born out of strife with a mission to save the world.

The first time I saw Skyzx Labastilla and Rafael Tibayan were in Virgin Labfest plays. Labastilla was the soulmate of her own father in the controversial "Daddy's Girl". Tibayan was the very patient butcher's apprentice in the acclaimed "Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala." This play was a showcase for the thespic talent of Labastilla as she ripped through the erratically emotional monologues of this damaged woman with searing ardor, and director Jose Estrella wisely just allowed her to carry us along with her inner pain. The metaphors of lightning and electrical torture and ECT were well-used by Rody Vera to convey Felisa's deeply-scarring life experiences. 


The remaining show date for Set C is on Oct 14, Friday at 8pm. Tickets are sold for P500 per set. For tickets, text Joshua Chan (09176775141) or Eunice Rodriguez (09178047191).
Set A is composed of "Loyalist Redux" written and directed by Kanakan Balintagos, "Duyan Ka ng Magiting" written and directed by Erika Estacio and "Thingy Or Ang Pak na Pak Ganern na Ganern sa Pakikipagsapalaran ni Milenyo, D’ Great Pokemon Hunter," written by Chris Martinez and directed by Dennis Marasigan. The remaining show date for this set is on Oct 15, Saturday at 8pm.

Set B is composed of "Disco 1081" written by George De Jesus III and directed by Melvin Lee, "Princess Lilli" written by Layeta Bucoy and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio, and "Bulong-Bulungan sa Sangandaan" written by Ramon Jocson and directed by Audie Gemora. The remaining show date for this set is Oct 16, Sunday at 1pm.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Review of 9 Works' TICK, TICK... BOOM!: Tough Transitions at Thirty

October 1, 2016

I knew this acclaimed off-Broadway musical entitled "Tick, Tick... Boom!" had been staged locally before. That first staging opened way back July 26, 2002 by Atlantis Productions, and starred Jet Pangan, Bituin Escalante and Michael de Mesa, directed by Bobby Garcia. In 2009, the Ateneo Blue Repertory staged another version, under the direction of Bea Garcia. Fortunately for us who had not been able to see this musical yet before, it is being re-staged this month by 9 Works Theatrical with a cast of fresh, up and coming theater talents, directed by Robbie Guevara.

This musical was written by the creator of "Rent" Jonathan Larson. It was semi-autobiographical in the sense that Larson himself experienced the frustration that came with trying to make it on Broadway. This musical was first staged June 2001 off Broadway with no less than Raul Esparza in the lead role. It had been re-staged and toured many times over since then. 

New York City,1990. Jon is turning 30 years old in a few days but he is still waiting tables at a diner, yet unable to stage a show on Broadway as he planned. His best friend Michael was making serious money as a marketing executive, already owning a BMW. His girlfriend Susan, a dancer, had serious intentions of settling down and moving to Cape Cod. His agent was able to arrange for a public workshop of Jon's rock musical "Superbia," but it seems only his friends and family liked it, not the investors. The pressure clock is loudly ticking, ready to explode inside Jon's head as his birthday drew nearer.

This show originated as a one-man show, a "rock monologue" performed by Jonathan Larson himself. You can clearly see these origins in the show as Jon narrated everything happening around him and in his head. Script consultant David Auburn had the idea to add two more actors to play Michael and Susan, as well as all the other minor characters in the story. That led to more energetic onstage interaction as well as fantastic vocal harmonizing, as arranged by Stephen Oremus.

Jef Flores, and Mio Infante's set 
(photo credit to Mio Infante)

Jef Flores proved that his victory as Best Actor in a Play (for Red Turnips' "This is Your Life") in the Gawad Buhay awards last year was no fluke. He impressively pulled off this exhausting role of Jon with so much verve and energy. He was onstage the whole 1 hour and 35 minutes of the show (without intermission), delivering his monologues, singing, dancing, running around. We did not see him even take a single sip of water throughout the show. This was another amazing tour-de-force performance from this actor, the It-Guy of the local theater scene these days.

I saw Tanya Manalang perform for the first time. She just played Kim for two years in London's reboot of Miss Saigon, and as one of the Aileens in "Rak of Aegis". Manalang played not only Susan, but also Jon's agent, Michael's snooty colleague and "Superbia" lead actress Karessa. As Karessa, Manalang really ripped through her big solo number "Come To Your Senses" with showstopping diva aplomb. I thought there wasn't really much romantic chemistry between Tanya and Jef, but their vocal chemistry was undeniable especially in the song "Therapy," my personal favorite song in the whole show. 

I first saw Ariel Reonal as Favorite Son in the last 9 Works show "American Idiot", where he showed off his athletic dance skills. Here we see more of his gentler side and his comic timing as he played not only Michael, but also Jon's father, an Indian shop owner and even Jon's female agent (in one surprise scene). His big showcase number "Real Life" showed off his rich and warm vocal chops.

The stage of the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza seemed to big for this intimate 3-actor play. To occupy the big blank space above the actors, stage designer Mio Infante came up with the idea to hang a beautiful multi-layer mobile of circles, seemingly to represent the swirling thoughts and the clocks ticking in Jon's head. This set was enhanced by Martin Esteva's lights. The choreography of Arnold Trinidad in upbeat songs like "Sugar" was fun to watch. Always great to hear a live band provide music for a musical show, care of the 9PO (led by musical director Daniel Bartolome).


"Tick, Tick... Boom!" opened at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza, Makati on October 1, 2016. Subsequent show schedules are as follows: October 8 (Sat, 8:00 PM), October 9 (Sun, 3:30 PM), October 15 (Sat, 8:00 PM), October 16 (Sun, 3:30 PM), October 21 (Fri, 8:00 PM), October 22 (Sat, 8:00 PM) and October 23 (Sun, 3:30 PM). Ticket prices range from P1776 to P940. For TICKets contact 0917-5545560, 586-7105, TICKetworld at 891-9999 or email